Bookworm: A fan’s book – ‘Didn’t We Almost Have It All?’
Let ‘The Woman Beyond the Attic’ raise the rafters
“Didn’t We Almost Have It All? In Defense of Whitney Houston”
- By Gerrick Kennedy, foreword by Brandy
- c. 2022, Abrams Press
- $28, 306 pages
That song. It always makes you want to dance with somebody. It gets your feet shuffling and your behind bouncing and the lyrics pour out of your mouth. And that singer who first sang it to you...? You know what happened to her, but in “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” by Gerrick Kennedy, you’ll get a few more pieces of the puzzle.
She died two days after he met her “in a room inside the Beverly Hilton ... ”
Gerrick Kennedy fell in love with Whitney Houston in a movie theater when he was just five years old. He purchased her music as a teen, followed her career closely, he met her once, and even now, his partner knows whose music is blasting when he sees Kennedy “floating away” with “earbuds poking out of my ears.” Now, nearly ten years since her death, Kennedy believes it’s time for a reckoning.
“We missed so much the first time around,” he says, and we need to look at Houston’s contribution to “our dialogue around celebrity, addiction ... mental illness, and Blackness in America...”
“To fully appreciate the anointing that graced Whitney’s voice, it’s essential to understand the almighty power of Cissy Houston.”
Indeed, Houston learned at her mother’s knee about God and gospel music – knowledge that came from a far-back source: Cissy’s parents put church and choir center in her life. God was a beacon to Whitney, and other musical talents – cousins Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick and “auntie” Aretha – further guided the young Houston.
Her first album rose to Number One on the charts; “She was on fire out the gate...” says Kennedy. Most people remember the power of her biggest hit, that “BOOM,” he says, before Houston’s voice soars, but a combination of drugs, bad decisions, and a bad relationship plagued her toward the end of her life. We watched “in horror” as she slid and “By the early aughts we were all watching, waiting... for the worst to happen ... ”
In his introduction, author Gerrick Kennedy indicates that he wanted his book about Houston to be different from all the others, more meaning, less trouble.
He succeeded. To a point.
It’s difficult to extricate Houston the icon from Houston the megastar – they are mostly one in the same – and stepping back two generations or profiling other singers and music executives doesn’t help as much as Kennedy asserts. That stuff is all fluff; interesting but covered elsewhere.
The best part of “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” comes in the latter third of the book. It’s there that Kennedy examines the depth of Houston’s contributions and the “meaning” of her decline and death to the Black community. There’s a lot of introspection in it, as well as a shift in how we think about our celebrities.
Tackle “Didn’t We Almost Have It All?” therefore, and you can expect to see things you already know, but you can also expect to be delighted. It’s a fan’s book, for sure, and reading it might be the greatest love of all.
“The Woman Beyond the Attic: The V.C. Andrews Story”
- By Andrew Neiderman
- c. 2022, Gallery Books
- $26, 259 pages
There’s something upstairs. Something on the roof or ... maybe it’s inside. You heard the scratching, the footfalls, and when you’re very quiet, you can hear voices. Just the idea gives you gooseflesh so now find “The Woman Beyond the Attic” by Andrew Neiderman and meet the woman who wrote about what’s up there.
You may know it from high school, or maybe you were a young adult when you became immersed in the Dollanganger saga, the fictional story that began in 1979 with Flowers in the Attic. In that novel, we met four siblings whose mother agreed, under duress, to lock her children beneath their grandparents’ rafters. The series became a national obsession and as happens, rumors swirled about the author.
Cleo Virginia Andrews was born in Virginia in June of 1923, the second child of a Navy man and “a telephone operator” who lived a wild life while her husband was a-sea. When Virginia was four years old, the family moved to Rochester, New York, near the paternal family farm; five years later, the Great Depression changed everything and the Andrewses once again landed in Virginia to live with relatives.
These moves left their mark: even as a young child, Virginia thought of herself as “‘an old soul’ ” and she had a strong belief in the paranormal. She claimed to have psychic powers and often imagined other, fantastical lives that she might have had.
This, hints Neiderman, may have helped Andrews become a writer after an accident, which happened when she was a young woman, resulted in a lifelong disability.
Neiderman describes the misfortune as a twist and a fall and ultimate time in a body cast that left Andrews “frozen in her adolescence for years” and in pain for the rest of her life. Indeed, her imagination and her fantasies were “clearly the door to escape the confinement her illness had imposed.”
Creepy stories are always a teen favorite and the Dollanganger books were right at the top of the list when you were younger. Half the fun was speculating about the kind of mind that could spin such a tale.
“The Woman Beyond the Attic” finally lays rumors to rest, broad-picture-like and repeatedly, as it turns out, since author Andrew Neiderman restates a lot of information in this biography. This, after a while, becomes little but noise; it doesn’t help that the verbiage is quite florid, or that an abundance of secondary interviewees and articles serve to swirl the waters of this book. A little less would have gone a long way.
And yet, there’s appeal here, in the form of information that may’ve escaped your attention since you first read the Dollenganger series. There’s also a chance to share: this story-behind-the-story will appeal to a new generation of novel-lovers who are drawn to the fortieth-anniversary re-release of the original novel.
Absolutely, this is a fan’s book, and the previously-unpublished novella that’s included here seals the deal. If that sounds good to you, then let “The Woman Beyond the Attic” raise the rafters.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.